significant choice in selecting their own learning experiences by choosing to attend to only those experiences or exhibits—or aspects of them—that align with their interests. Typically, learners’ engagement is short-term and sporadic in these environments, and learning can take place individually or in peer, family, or mentor interactions. However, there is increasing interest in extending the impact of these experiences over time through postvisit Web experiences, traveling exhibits, and follow-up mail or e-mail contact. These kinds of innovations are discussed in more detail in Chapter 9.


Programs include after-school programs, summer programs, clubs, museum programs, Elderhostel programs, volunteer groups, citizen science experiences, science cafés, public lecture series, and learning vacations. Often program content includes a formal curriculum that is organized and designed to address the concerns of sponsoring institutions. Although the curriculum and activities are focused primarily on content knowledge or skills, they may also address attitudes and values and may use science to solve applied problems. Often, programs are designed to serve those seen to be in need of support, such as economically disadvantaged children and adults.

As in designed environments, individuals most often participate in programs either by their own choice or the choice of a parent or teacher. They attend programs that align with their interests and needs. Experiences in these environments are typically guided and monitored by a trained facilitator and often include opportunities for collaboration. The time frame of these learning experiences ranges from brief, targeted, short-term experiences to sustained, long-term programs with in-depth engagement. Assessments are often used to determine progress and to allow for adjustments, but they are not typically meant to judge individual attainment or progress against an objective standard or to form the basis for graduation or certification of any kind (although they may affect the participants’ reputation or status in the program or their self-perception and self-confidence).

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